Scientists call for the COVID-19 pandemic to be seen as a warning for the future

The pandemic has had widespread health and economic ramifications across Tasmania. Thirteen people have died, thousands have been quarantined and more than 20,000 people have lost their job.

While we don’t know exactly what animal species the virus originated from, scientists widely consider bats the likely source.

Dr Scott Carver is a senior lecturer at the University of Tasmania who specialises in the ecology and epidemiology of infectious diseases.

He said human impacts on the environment can create new contacts with animals and increase risk of pathogens transferring between animals and humans.

“Pathogen spillover between species … happens quite often,” Mr Carver said. “It is just that most pathogens don’t cause really significant health outcomes. Some of them, however, do.

With a growing human population size and growing human impacts on the environment it is not surprising that you get more of these events happening  Dr Scott Carver

“The chance of any one spillover event resulting in an epidemic is low, but if you increase the opportunity for that to happen, through increasing new contacts, then the probability increases.”

He said implementing policies to limit the risk of potential future pandemics would benefit both public health and biodiversity.

“With a growing human population size and growing human impacts on the environment it is not surprising that you get more of these events happening,” Dr Carver said.

“It is incumbent upon us to really take a serious look at the way we treat the environment and think about policies that can limit these sorts of things.”

Ecocide is an attempt to criminalise human activities that destroy and diminish the well-being and health of ecosystems and species within an ecosystem  Dr Olivia Hasler

UTAS’s Dr Olivia Hasler believes legislating a law of ecocide could be one way to approach establishing these policies.

“Ecocide is an attempt to criminalise human activities that destroy and diminish the well-being and health of ecosystems and species within an ecosystem,” she said.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic had highlighted how connected we were as a society, and she hoped that would not be forgotten in the recovery effort.

“A law against ecocide would provide accountability to those that are in positions of power to make decisions about the use of our resources and shared land,” Dr Hasler said.

Premier and Climate Change Minister Peter Gutwein said Tasmania’s coronavirus recovery would focus on sustainable economic growth.

“Tasmania already has in place strong environmental management frameworks [and] a comprehensive reserve system to protect biodiversity,” he said.

“In 2016, we were the first state to achieve zero net emissions, and we have a renewable energy generation target of 200 per cent of our needs by 2040.

“As we look to recover from COVID-19, we will build on and leverage these competitive advantages, which includes our clean, green and innovative brand.” SOURCE

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